field report no.050416

SUBJECT: Jonathan Franzen & Myra Melford

I only mention that I came to this show on invitation as, before this night, I hadn't read anything by Jonathan Franzen or listened to anything by Myra Melford. That said, the evening held promise. If you were to ask me at this remove, I'm far more likely to look into the pianist's work than the author's. Of course, I tend have a fairly harsh take on modern literature, so, you know, grain of salt (and all).

In the billing, Melford talked of her inspiration by a wide variety of art, beyond music—a statement bolstered by the fact that half of the scores Melford played from were accompanied by prints of abstract art on her music stand. In practice this meant the evening alternated between short readings and solo piano works. The conceptual connections between the two were tenuous; maybe if we knew the titles of the works…

Franzen's readings reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson movies: works that aspired for abstraction but were far too infatuated grand meaning and closure. It ends up feeling like pop entertainment trying to pass itself off as deep—or worse yet, the work of someone who's believed their own hype.

While Franzen's writing is pop with aspirations of something greater, Melford's is abstract without forgetting its populist, blues roots. As fragmented as her improvisations could be, thanks to her boogie-fixated left hand, I never lost track of the melody.

NOTES: Jonathan Franzen. Myra Melford.
PRESENT: AMS, Angela F., Jared E., Jen S.